Even if you aren’t paying close attention to them, it’s very clear that the British royal family has a lot going on right now. Prince William and Kate Middleton welcomed their third child. Queen Elizabeth celebrated a festive 92nd birthday. And tomorrow, May 19, Meghan Markle will walk down the aisle to marry Prince Harry in a boundary-breaking wedding for the ages.
With so many celebrations, the public has a unique opportunity to see a lot of the royals—and how they dress—on a frequent basis. They seem to look naturally impeccable every time they step out, but there are murmurs of strict royal fashion rules and etiquette that help them look so polished.
So what are the restrictions? InStyle enlisted the help of the etiquette experts at The English Manner to break down what is royal style procedure and what is fashion fable. Scroll through the biggest revelations about the royal dress code below.
Black is a no—unless you’re Princess Diana.
Don’t expect to catch a royal at a daytime event in black, because it doesn’t happen often.
“Generally it is thought that black is not usually worn unless in mourning, although Diana Princess of Wales did occasionally wear it for evening functions, and The Duchess of Cambridge has been known to do so,” The English Manner Chief Executive Alexandra Messervy explains.
“I note that there was a bit of an outcry recently when Ms. Markle wore black for a daytime event, but in the modern age I don’t think that it is ‘frowned’ upon so much at all, and indeed funeral codes often state ‘colors/no black.'”
During international visits, paying homage to the host country is a must.
Wearing the country’s emblems or colors is common practice during visits abroad.
“Usually they will try to pay a compliment to their host country or state by including a national bird, flower, or color, for instance, into an outfit,” says Messervy. “Both HM The Queen and Diana Princess of Wales were brilliant at that (Japan official visit etc).”
Common sense rules always apply … Meghan’s got to work on that.
“Other rules dictate common sense—skirts which are easy enough to walk in, trousers usually for casual events rather than formal ones; hats which do not shield too much of the face so that the public can see them; and shoes which are sensible or comfortable enough to stand for hours/walk in,” says Messervy. “I think Ms. Markle may tone down her heels a little bit when she does endless walkabouts!”
Bright colors are required in crowds.
Think of it as a practical safety precaution. Royals, especially the queen, must wear “colors which are bright so that they can be easily picked out in a crowd,” says Messervy.
No, flesh-colored tights are not a requirement
Despite many reports that flesh-colored tights are a royal rule demanded by Queen Elizabeth herself, Messervy says that this is simply not true and has more to do with fads than any sort of tradition.
“No, it is not true! They are at liberty to choose whatever color tights they wish, and indeed often opaque colors work well with outfits. I think the only reason they have chosen ‘nude’ in recent years is because they have become so much more fashionable, and the ‘bare legs’ look became the craze.”
Female senior family members don’t wear pants for official engagements.
“You don’t see senior members of the Royal Family wearing trousers or trouser suits for official engagements,” Messervy says. “A departure from that has been on occasion HRH The Duchess of Gloucester and HRH The Princess Royal, I think, but very rare.” (Meghan Markle likes to break this tradition too.)
A royal’s attitude is just as important as what they wear.
When fans go to royal events to see the famed family in person, they often have to wait around before actually seeing anything. Messervy says that people wait hours, sometimes in the freezing rain, to cheer and catch a glimpse of real-life royalty. For the family, being cheerful and dressing well is part of respecting that effort.
“They need to look memorably good, and it is a way of complimenting those who have stood and waited for them or donated to charity or worked tirelessly for so long,” she says.
They favor British designers on purpose.
“I think they all try to use British designers wherever possible, which is great. I have noted that the younger members of the Family try to see out new and innovative up-and-coming, little-known designers, which is super, and some of the smaller ateliers are now coming to the fore, such as [milinner] Vivien Sheriff, with whom we work, and [jewelry designer] Jane Taylor,” says Messervy.
“Diana and Camilla have done great services to the British fashion industry, and now The Duchess of Cambridge and the younger ones with Beulah, Emilia Wickstead, etc., and Alexander McQueen. The Royal Family are one of our greatest exports/tourist attractions, and their patronages (and Royal Warrants) are worth so much to British designers and industry.”
Royals leave sleeveless and short dresses by the wayside.
“They don’t usually wear sleeveless dresses and they usually wear clothes which are not too short in the hemline because of bending down and sitting in public,” says Messervy. (Another one for Markle to take note of.)
The fabrics are chosen carefully.
Each piece selected to be worn during a royal visit is chosen with care, all the way down to the raw materials used to construct the clothes.
“Wardrobe care is very important and the staff do an amazing job,” Messervy says, pointing out that sometimes new designers forget how durable clothes need to be for royal events. Materials like silk, which doesn’t crease as much, help the family look their best at all times as they’re being photographed from different angles. “Perhaps a silk and wool mix rather than too much linen content—all things to note for durability but also to stop unsightly creasing,” she says.
It might seem like a lot of detail work, but Messervy brings up a classic example of Princess Diana’s wedding dress to prove her point. “Think of Diana’s wedding dress. Glorious creation, but how it creased due to the lack of experience of the designers,” she says. “They learned fast but were greatly criticized at the time!”